What a glorious day to start my residency in the beautiful Edinburgh Botanics! I was there before the gates opened, and left as ‘closing time’ was sung. My smile was day-long.
My plan for the residency is to spend my mornings getting to know some of the exotic and extraordinary species in the garden, on my own, in a bumbly kind of way. This morning I had no fixed plan – I just wanted to see where my nose took me. I nodded to the meta sequoias, greeted the big chestnut, and then under the shade of a fir tree, I found this weird lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum). It’s taller than me, thrusting out of the earth like asparagus on steroids.
The star of my morning, however, turned out to be humble primula, the name and origin I finally established (Primula alpicola, from Tibet), although I spent quite a while with it unable to find a label for it. It’s a leggy, pale cowslip, yellow mostly, with some pale purples. Its smell drew me to it, and kept me with it, and I know I will be returning to it daily to bathe in its fragrance. Some people go to spas – I get primula aromatherapy. I basked in its honey-wafts, listening to the music of leaves awash with a sunny breeze, and revelled in my good fortune to be here. The garden is a 4-leaved clover and I am the bee!
This afternoon, my first event was a toast to the Gaelic Tree Alphabet, which begins with birch (Beithe, in Gaelic). I was joined by a dozen or so people and we gatecrashed the Edible Gardening event to share a bottle of delicious silver birch sap wine, read some poems and celebrate the project getting off to a fine start. Thanks (moran taing) to Mark Newman for reading George Campbell Hay’s Do Bheithe Bhoidheach (To a Bonny Birchtree), and to Jennifer Williams for reading Robert Frost’s Birches. Thanks also to Colin McKenzie for his lovely birch poem.
Birch is all about beginnings: ecologically birch is a pioneer and was first to colonise after the ice age; practically, birch bark is the ideal material to kindle a fire with; and in folklore, birch symbolises new starts. The best way to conceive is supposed to be to make love under a birch tree – there, just 15 minutes into the residency and we’re at sex and alcohol already – we really are off to a good start 🙂